Matau: Traditional hooks, innovative designs 

When:
Exhibition now closed 4 Dec 2010 – 21 Nov 2012
Where:
Cost:
Type:
Maori 

Matau (fish hook) 19th century, Maker unknown, New Zealand. Gift of Alexander Turnbull, 1913. Te Papa
Matau (fish hook) 19th century, Maker unknown, New Zealand. Gift of Alexander Turnbull, 1913. Te Papa

From ingenious tool to ornament, souvenir, and symbol of cultural revival – this exhibition explores the changing form and function of the Māori matau (fish-hook).

Without the technology to extract metal, Māori originally made their hooks from wood, bone, stone, and shell. Early European explorers considered matau ‘ill-made’ and ‘of doubtful efficacy’. In fact, the design was sophisticated and highly effective, as modern-day fishers have recently rediscovered. You’ll see sturdy bone hooks big enough to land a shark, and delicate double-barbed rotating hooks made to catch small-mouthed fish. There are trolling lures fashioned from pāua shell, and slender matau toroa – hooks designed especially for catching albatross.

Post-contact, Māori quickly integrated European tools and technologies with the traditional matau form that had served them so well. Meanwhile, bone and stone matau acquired new significance as highly collectible artefacts and, more recently, as personal adornment. The exhibition features several exquisite examples of contemporary hei matau made from pounamu, ivory, and wood. 

Discover the intriguing story of Māori matau and their many roles – from catching fish to symbol of cultural pride.